14 July 2016

Nisha Biswal shoots from a no-fire zone

Exactly one month ago, i.e. on the 16th of June 2016, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein offering a global update at the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council made a dire observation.  He said ‘hate is being mainstreamed’.   

Just two days ago, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, invoked the insidious Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine.  This is how he put it:

This is the time to massively reinforce UN action. When a Government cannot or will not protect its people, and when warring parties seem more intent on enriching and empowering themselves at the expense of their people, the international community has a responsibility to act.’

Zeid went on to talk about country-specific issues whereas Ki-moon was speaking on the situation in South Sudan.  Perhaps it was not the forum for Zeid to note that it is simplistic to speak of human rights as though it is a domestic issue of member states, but even then to talk of ‘structural racial discrimination’ in the USA without noting structured violence against African Americans including Police brutality and killings is negligent.  We are talking about a global situation where the most brutal violence is transnational in nature and where the United States and her allies are among the worst violators of human rights. 

Ki-moon was speaking about a specific country but it is strange that he uses the word ‘responsibility’ without naming the country that is clearly responsible for the South Sudan ‘situation’, the USA. 
These men care about human rights, they say.  They care about protecting people, they say.  They are mandated at times to talk about specific situations but since both are given to moralizing it is surprising that they leave out key elements of the narrative.  

To date we have not heard either Ki-moon or Zeid utter a single word on the Chilcot Report about Britain’s involvement in Iraq.  
 Mind you, this is a report that is soft enough to allow its principal ‘target’, Tony Blair to glean many a face-saving quote and yet is hard enough to warrant Ki-moon to invoke ‘responsibility’ and for Zeid to wax eloquent on the mainstreaming of hate, quoting once again, if he so wishes, Hafiz of Shiraz to talk of the ‘epic of pain’ as the ‘pallid ghosts’ of US-UK adventures in Iraq make an appearance. 

They are silent and in their silence should we find that the mainstreaming of hate can be talked of in the present continuous tense as well as the past tense.  The mainstream, in short, is marked by hatred and there are no prizes for naming this ‘mainstream’.   As for Ki-moon, he could elaborate on ‘warring parties intent on enriching and empowering themselves’ at the expense of their people (men and women serving in the US, UK and allied forces died) and at the expense of other people too (in Iraq and elsewhere – the USA has finally admitted, for example, that it has no clue how many civilians were killed in drone attacks).    

All of the above is ‘context’.  It provides backdrop for the statements issued by the Assistant Secretary of USA for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal, currently visiting Sri Lanka along with Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Tom Malinowski (who was unceremoniously expelled for ‘interfering in the internal affairs’ from Bahrain, a US ally in the region no less). 

Biswal has visited Sri Lanka before as has Malinowski (read 'Tom Malinowski needs to sleep').  In February 2014, the lady issued a dire warning.  ‘If Sri Lanka doesn’t make meaningful progress in addressing the accountability issues, the patience of the international community on Sri Lanka will start to wear thin,’ she said and urged Sri Lanka to take some concrete steps to ‘address the issue of human rights, accountability and reconciliation process’.
‘Accountability’ was the word here.  ‘International Community’ was the definer.  ‘Patience’ is the commodity said to be in short supply.  But charity begins at home, she did not say.  And she’s not said it since.  Blair may think that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein, but the Chilcot Report and the declassified documents of the CIA about justification for the invasion of Iraq clearly show that the people of both countries were misled by their leaders.  Iraq did not possess Weapons of Mass Destruction and there was absolutely no evidence of any link between Saddam and al-Qaeda.  If a lie followed by an invasion can be brushed aside by the simple claim ‘Saddam is out, the world is safer’ and if the UN and UNHRC are fine with it what it means is that we are living on a planet that has been renamed ‘Anything Goes’.   

Where anything goes, however, there cannot be a word called ‘accountability’ while ‘patience’ is nothing but a privilege reserved for brutes.  This is what Zeid and Ki-moon the big-name spokespersons for the ‘international community’ are telling us by their silence.  And it is what makes Biswal’s sanctimonious statements laughable.  If they were not insufferable, that is.  

For the record and in response to Blair’s claims which the official ‘international community’ is not contradicting, here are some numbers which speak to pre and post Saddam ‘safety’.  In the 15 years prior to the invasion there were zero suicide attacks in Iraq and in the 15 years that followed, more than 2000 such attacks (not counting of course the countless aerial bombings of the US-led forces and other horrendous human rights violations).  The numbers for Pakistan are 1 and 486 (by 2015).  There were zero suicide attacks in Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria and Syria prior to 2003.  Since then the numbers (by 2015) were 88, 85, 29, 91 and 165 in these countries respectively.  There was no ISIS in 2003.  The ISIS now ‘owns’ parts of Iraq.  All due to the illegal invasion?  Perhaps not, but the invasion by all accounts fuelled the rise of that terrorist organization and not just in Iraq.

Keeping the ISIS out of it, had Saddam been alive, one could argue, the number could have been worse, but after the Chilcot Report conjecture has to be kept out of the discourse. 

Nisha Biswal has changed her tone this time around.  She says ‘We will continue to support the Government of Sri Lanka as it takes meaningful and concrete steps in relation to democratic governance, while working towards ensuring reconciliation, justice and accountability.’

Can this change of tone be attributed to some kind of chastening on account of recent revelations?  Could it be that she is scared that someone will toss back to her the very same words she uttered, in arrogance and ignorance, perhaps? No, that’s unlikely.  It is all about ‘interests’ of the kind that Ki-moon spoke of.  Human rights and democracy, justice and accountability, and if you like reconciliation too, do not have absolute values; they are weighted when included in diplo-speak; one language/tone for ‘friends’ and a different one for the less friendly. 

When she visited last and read her self-righteous and obnoxious Washinton-drafted statement, Biswal prompted the following response.

The leaders of this country are answerable. They are answerable to the people of this country.  They are not answerable to a bunch of terrorist who use wealth and weapons to convince the world that the rivers of blood they make flow are the inevitable juices that give life to democracy, peace, civilization etc.(A  briefing note’ for Nisha Biswal’)  

That was a different set of leaders.  The message, in essence, is relevant for this Government too.  We can do without sanctimonious tutors and tutoring.  The official ‘international community’ is fine with what is essentially a friendly knuckle-rap report of the kind that the British inquiry on Iraq.  We saw seven years of ‘patience’.  This Government can do better but will certainly falter if it looks to the likes of Biswal and the politics she represent to draw inspiration from.   

It is simple, really.  Sri Lanka has to step out of the (main)stream of hatred.  The Government can be courteous to the likes of Biswal, but in the end if justice, accountability, reconciliation and peace are what’s sought, then there can be no substitute for conversations with the people of this country. 

This article was published in the Daily Mirror (July 14, 2016) under the title 'Stepping out of the (main)stream of hatred'.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer.  Follow him on Twitter: malindasene. Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com

The Ministry of Development Strategies & International Trade said yesterday it would formulate the National Trade Policy by the end of next month - See more at: http://www.dailymirror.lk/112510/National-trade-policy-by-end-of-August-Ministry#sthash.iopSFGpv.dpuf
The Ministry of Development Strategies & International Trade said yesterday it would formulate the National Trade Policy by the end of next month - See more at: http://www.dailymirror.lk/112510/National-trade-policy-by-end-of-August-Ministry#sthash.iopSFGpv.dpuf